Start-up Spotlight – in association with Invested Investor
Peter Cowley, the chairman of Cambridge Business Angel, is a serial entrepreneur and professional angel investor, making him a leading Invested Investor. Having set up over 10 companies and invested in over 60 startups, Peter was named UK Business Angel of the Year 2014/15and Best Angel of the World by the World Business Angel Investment Forum in February 2017.
He is passionate about increasing the success rate for early investors and entrepreneurs by sharing the success and war stories from those who have done it before. The Invested Investor Project was set up to achieve this aim.
Why/How did you become an investor?
I stumbled into angel investing about 11 years ago. I backed an entrepreneur, Martin Kleppmann, with his startup, and it exited within three years. During this time, I learnt the meaning of the word ‘angel’ in the context of early stage investing, learnt how much I enjoyed helping young entrepreneurs and how much I had to learn. Robert Sansom sponsored me into the Cambridge Angels, from whom I learnt everything I now know. I adore grasping new opportunities and my accidental induction into angel investing has led to this phase of my varied life being the most rewarding.
What do you invest in and at what stage?
I invest in people (a team of 2 or 3). The team must have an idea (and preferably an initial product) for solving an unmet need in a business-to-business market – early stage, with high risk and high potential reward, where I can help the entrepreneurs My criteria are on my website: www.petercowley.org with my portfolio, my successes and failures.
What are the challenges faced when you become an investor?
- Taking the plunge with that first investment, when I didn’t know what I didn’t know
- Avoiding investing in every bright, passionate entrepreneur that I met
- Learning that a portfolio of at least 15 companies is needed to spread the inevitable risk
What are the great stories of ‘rewards or satisfactions’ that you can share?
Entrepreneurs who I have mentored, then approach me years later and say that my advice was life-changing for them and their startups.
Having my younger son agree to work with me, to build our Invested Investor publishing project, such that within nine months, I am learning more from him, than him from me.
How do you characterise success?
Sharing, learning from and enjoying entrepreneurial teams’ journeys
A positive financial return on my investment portfolio. Preferably a multiple, but all my money back plus £1 will be sufficient to add to the satisfaction from working with so many entrepreneurs.
Please give the top three factors that influence your decision to invest.
How do you view your relationship with your investees? What is a good relationship?
If I don’t have an open, honest relationship with them, then trust will be challenged or non-existent. Then I will struggle to be able to support them with advice and further funding. A good relationship extends beyond investor/investee to being close colleagues or even friends.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Define ‘work’! Apart from my time being seriously over-committed, I view my decade-long angel career as being similar to retirement. I liken helping entrepreneurs to a hobby, which if done well (with a large dose of luck) has financial returns. Although I do ensure that I allocate time for my family and friends, plus I ski, hike in the mountains, play real tennis and badminton, play bridge, enjoy an eclectic range of movies.
Who inspires you and why?
My first employer (in 1974) was Dick Smith – not known in the UK, but probably the best known entrepreneur in Australia – a great inspiration. Nat Billington, a friend, entrepreneur and inspirational angel investor, who tragically died in his mid-40s. The four great mentors I have had over the last 40 years. No human achieves great results without others supporting, backing and teaching.
If you could offer an early investor one piece of business advice, what would it be?
Learn from online and offline resources, practise a bit with one of the more sophisticated crowd funding platforms, but most importantly learn from/shadow active angels, preferably by joining an angel group.